Chancellor’s injunction keeps Clay County schools open

Published in print October 14, 2015

Restraining order comes
after board vote to close;
hearing set next Monday

CELINA-“Pursuant to an injunction order from chancellor Ronald Thurman, Clay County Schools will remain open until further notice,” a statement from the Clay County Schools central office said late Friday afternoon.
The news came just hours after school board members voted to close schools that night at midnight due to state funding being cut off as of October 1.
The school board decision didn’t come without drama as the issue was again debated among school officials, board members, and concerned citizens at the jam-packed meeting last Thursday night.

OFFERING ANSWERS-Director of schools Jerry Strong (far left standing) answers questions from concerned residents and school board members (seated in foreground) at last Thursday’s standing-room-only meeting.  Here he is explaining the details of the school budget utilizing a power-point presentation (far right).  (HORIZON photo by Thomas P. Weaver)

OFFERING ANSWERS-Director of schools Jerry Strong (far left standing) answers questions from concerned residents and school board members (seated in foreground) at last Thursday’s standing-room-only meeting. Here he is explaining the details of the school budget utilizing a power-point presentation (far right). (HORIZON photo by Thomas P. Weaver)

A presentation by director of schools Jerry Strong and an eventful public comment session was followed by a board vote taken on keeping schools open, because the same body had previously voted to close schools October 9 if a budget increase was not approved by the county commission.
The motion to keep schools open—made by Christina Crawford and seconded by Todd Upton—failed by a 6-4 vote with board members Crawford, Upton, Todd Lynn, and Chris McLerran voting yes, while David West, Vonda Weir, Veda Hix, Benji Bailey, Nathan Sherrell, and Anthony Smith voted no.
Then after Nashville television news outlets announced the closure and as students were sent home with letters explaining the process, teachers prepared to close up shop, and the system’s official fall break began with the ringing of the final bell Friday, Strong and board members were served with summons from Thurman informing them of the temporary restraining order filed prohibiting them “from closing the Clay County school system.”
“You are hereby restrained, enjoined and prohibited from doing anything other than administering and maintaining the Clay County public school system in its current form, and pursuant to any existing or adopted budget,” the order said. “This order is being issued pending a temporary hearing on this issue, which has been scheduled before the honorable Ronald Thurman, Chancellor of the Chancery Court for Clay County, Tennessee on the 19th day of October, 2015 at the Clay County Government Complex located in Celina, Tennessee at 10 a.m. or shortly thereafter.”
A week of fall break would have allowed students a delay in feeling the effects of the closure since class wasn’t set to resume until next Monday according to the school calendar, but student-athletes were set to immediately experience repercussions as practices and games this week were set to be canceled and forfeited before Thurman’s injunction.
The injunction comes as a part of a 20-plus-page lawsuit filed by Clay County High School students’ parents Tracy Ford and Christopher J. Kane and the document details the plaintiffs’ “complaint” by saying in part “their children have the statutory right to be educated in Clay County,” the “Clay County Board of Education has an obligation to administer and operate” the school system, and if the board “chooses to close the schools, it would be in derogation of the statutory and constitutional rights the plaintiffs derive from Tennessee law and the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States.”
The document went on to say “the plaintiffs would submit the actions and conduct of the Clay County Board of Education are violative of Tennessee Law, the Tennessee Constitution and the United States Constitution.
“Specifically, the plaintiffs would submit the actions and conduct of the Clay County Board of Education, including, but not limited to, intentions to close the Clay County school system, violate Tennessee statutes regarding education and the constitutional protections guaranteeing a public education, due process and equal protection laws,” the lawsuit continued.
Along with the temporary restraining order and Monday’s scheduled temporary hearing, the document showed the plaintiffs asked “that a final hearing be scheduled” and, among other action, the court “enter a permanent injunction requiring the Clay County Board of Education to maintain, operate and administer the public schools of Clay County, Tennessee for the 2015-2016 school term within the confines of any duly enacted budgetary requirements.”
The lawsuit and the threat of school closure came to light after a school board request of an additional $200,000 to cover costs associated with the Affordable Care Act was rejected by the county budget committee and the county commission voted to appropriate funds that are “no more than the projected revenues” for the schools, otherwise known as a “maintenance of effort” school budget—one including the same money as was appropriated last year plus an additional state mandated $16,000.
“All we have is a mandate from the county commission,” Strong said in a past HORIZON. “We do not have a budget that has been approved by both the school board and the county commission.”
Due to that fact, Strong said he was unable to submit a budget to the state department of education and state funding was stripped.
“I got a call from state education commissioner Candice McQueen saying our funding would be cut off,” Strong said in last week’s HORIZON. “We were unable to submit an approved budget to her office because we don’t have one and by law that’s what she has to do.
He explained state funding came in the form of 10 payments with the next due to be received October 15 to cover this month’s costs.
“We won’t be getting that October 15 payment,” the director said last week, “or anything beyond that.”
Besides appropriating funds through a “maintenance of effort” school budget, the county commission also voted last month to put a wheel tax increase of $27 earmarked for schools on the March 1, 2016 Presidential Primary ballot where residents will vote for or against the new tax.
See next week’s HORIZON for breaking news from Monday’s hearing and a future edition for more on this ongoing issue.